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Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello with Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen

It’s hard to fathom but 2016 may turn into one of the best years for Cheap Trick in the band’s 42 year career; better than when the group charted a worldwide number one single for “The Flame” and even when the Rockford, Illinois group became an “overnight sensation” after the multi-platinum Live at Budokan

Let me count the ways:

—In April, Rick Nielsen, Robin Zander, Tom Petersson and Daxx Nielsen released their 17th studio effort, Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello. The 11 tracks—from the opening powerhouse momentum heard on “Heart on the Line” to the single “When I Wake Up Tomorrow” and cover of “The In Crowd”—rival some of the group’s best work ever. It’s a testament to great pop songwriting, catchy hooks and the life-affirming qualities of rock ‘n’ roll that recalls the quartet’s classics yet maintains a freshness that leaves older contemporaries and younger artists in the dust.

—Giving the album the support it deserves, Cheap Trick found a lifelong fan in Scott Borchetta, who just happens to be the founder, president and CEO of Big Machine Records. With the approval of Julian Rymond, the label’s Vice President of A&R who also was a longtime associate and producer of the band, Bang, Zoom is the first of a multi-album deal.

—The timing of the new album’s release couldn’t have been better. April 1st (April Fools’ Day) saw Bang, Zoom available online and at retail outlets; this coincided with the annual Cheap Trick Day in Illinois. Just as it does more than 200 times each year the band celebrated the events by playing a concert.

—A week later, the celebration continued when Nielsen, Zander and Petersson (and original drummer Bun E. Carlos) were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band’s inclusion cements its reputation due to a timeless catalog and an influence that’s spanned generations.

“The songs are why everybody knows Cheap Trick,” Nielsen said. “We have some good songs. ‘I Want You To Want Me” has been around for 40 years but people still love it. And even if you’re sick of it, it’s over in three minutes!

“The songs are still relevant; they still have the right words and the right emotion to move 99 per cent of all humans.”

—In May Nielsen, Zander and Petersson’s appeared on Live at Daryl’s House. They collaborated on several of host Daryl Hall’s songs and then on their own numbers including “No Direction Home” from “Bang, Zoom” and classics such as “Surrender,” “Heaven Tonight” and “I Want You to Want Me.”

—Following more headlining dates Cheap Trick joins two other Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acts – Heart and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – on a major summer tour.

JPG: First thing, I want to do is to congratulate you for being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There are a lot of people that are very excited about Cheap Trick getting into the Rock Hall.

RN: Including us. How ‘bout that?

JPG: With some bands you wonder if they are being truthful when they say, “Oh, we don’t care. We don’t want to be in.” You wanted to be in.

RN: Yeah, well, we never thought about being in. When we were nominated, it was like, “Holy cow! Wow! Maybe we will…” Then, when we got in on the first time we were nominated on the first round, when you hear about these bands who were eligible — we were eligible years ago – and being nominated for 10 years in a row, like a Susan Lucci kind of thing (the soap opera star received a Daytime Emmy on her 19th nomination), and didn’t get in. We weren’t like, “Oh boy, I wonder if this is going to happen?” But we kind of were, “Wow! That would be cool.”

I figured Yes would get in before we would, of the people that were eligible this year. I saw the voting online. Somebody had the electronic telephone because nobody could dial that fast or whatever it was. So, I figured we don’t have a shot at it. We have a lot of fans but we don’t have fans that work at AT&T and Verizon to put us in time after time. But millions of people, holy cow…

And when we got it it was unbelievable. Every one of us thought, what a great honor. [Induction ceremony no-shows] Pete Cetera (of Chicago) and Richie Blackmore (of Deep Purple), they can play with us. We’re not fighting it. We’d be happy to have them if that would help. It’s too bad that those guys weren’t there.

JPG: Yeah. Every once in awhile, it’s that rock ‘n’ roll never forgets and problems remain…

RN: I understand where The Sex Pistols don’t show up. (slight laugh) That’s their MO. We’re just thrilled to be in there. The cool thing was, it’s not like how many records you sold. They said it’s how you influenced people. That to me meant a ton because everybody else probably sold way more records than we did. Although, we haven’t done so bad. Like I told people, everybody understands it. We go out and play 250 shows a year. We’ll see somebody, ‘So, Rick what’s new? Where you been?” Uhhhh, what do you say? The minute that we were going to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, everybody stopped me, “Alright!” People that didn’t know anything about what we did, it means something to a lot of people. They understand that.

JPG: You mentioned earlier about the reason for induction — the influence — but it’s also the enduring quality of the band and the music and spanning generations of fans. Jumping to the new album, Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello, I have to tell you, it’s up there as one of your best.

RN: Thanks. We were making it before we knew anything about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We were just trying to make a record. I used to tell people, “If we had to wait until we had a hit record to tour, we’d never tour.” So we just kept making records ‘cause we wanted to. It wasn’t like the world was clamoring for another Cheap Trick record. It was us and the fans that we did have, they complained when we didn’t put a record out. We do it basically for us.

We were lucky that the timing worked out really good. We never wanted to be a Beatles cover band, you know doing Sgt Pepper. We didn’t want to just be on the oldies reminiscent tour. Our band, we probably would have been more successful if we would have broken up and come back together but we never broke up. We just always played — big places, small places, lot of people, not a lot of people.

JPG: Do you think some of it is Midwest work ethic?

RN: I think so. Trust me, there’s lazy people in the Midwest, too. When I grew up, I guess for all of us, nobody owed me a living…I used to hear that from my grandmother, (imitates her) “Nobody owes you a living.” And it’s true, nobody owes you a living. I used to hear all kinds of malarkey. I never went to a Homecoming. I never went to anything unless I was playing at it. There were people that probably could play better but they did it more as a hobby where I did is as a hobby but I was serious about it. What I’m doing now is what I wanted to do when I was a junior in high school. Not knowing, I’d be so frickin’ old, obviously. But, when I play I don’t feel old. It’s pretty cool. I still like a lot of the stuff I did back then. I still dislike a lot of the stuff I disliked back then. I didn’t grow into liking stuff that I was supposed to like.

JPG: What you’re saying reminds me of, and I’m paraphrasing here, a Bruce Springsteen quote about making it in music. He was like, “What else was I going to do? There was nothing but music.”

RN: I never said, “What else am I gonna do?” It was like, “This is what I wanted to do. I can do it pretty good.” I was never in it for the money. There was no money but it was enough to get by. There’s some quotes that my dad in this article my dad had done in 1979 that I never saw until just recently and it hit me. It was pretty amazing. I wish I would have seen it when he was alive. He talked about his humor and his humor is my humor, some of the stuff I thought was quite, quite hilarious. He said, “I’m glad he stuck with it. I frankly don’t know how he’s maintained his enthusiasm over years of getting nowhere and approaching starvation.” (laughs) My dad was an opera singer. And he also bought a music store and turned that into something. This was in 1979 when he was closing his store after being in business for 23 years, kinda retiring. It was an interview called “My Son the Rock Star” or something like that.

JPG: Now if your dad was an opera singer, do you have any type of singing voice? I know you don’t sing lead in the band but…

RN: I know music and I know right notes from wrong notes and I appreciate classics, but it was never my music. I’m a good foil for a great voice. And the great voice is Robin. He can sing great. I can be pitch perfect. Being a songwriter…but I wasn’t the singer that could sing the songs I wanted. I always wanted to be in a band and have somebody that could. Robin wasn’t the first guy that I worked with but he was the first guy that could interpret what I would write, and me doing the background voices. His voice being so good and my voice being pitching fine but not being a lead vocalist in my mind; so, I sound crummy, he sounds great, together it sounds cool.

JPG: Speaking of Robin, it’s like having multiple lead vocalists in the band for the price of one. When you’re recording, do you just let him decide how he’s going to approach each song or are suggestions like, “Hey Robin, why don’t you do a take where it’s more punk, less Midwest or more this, less this…?”

RN: I think the songs usually dictate that. We worked together a long time where it’s like I know what key to write in to make it so it’s at the top of his range for songs that need to be at the top of the range. If you listen to our songs, they’re more complicated than they sound. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The song dictates how things go.

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